Undercutting Climate Progress, Congress Agrees to Lift Oil Export Ban

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Undercutting Climate Progress, Congress Agrees to Lift Oil Export Ban

Deal to lift 40-year-old ban smuggled into $1.1 trillion omnibus bill

House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told GOP lawmakers about the deal in a closed-door meeting Tuesday night. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told GOP lawmakers about the deal in a closed-door meeting Tuesday night. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Lawmakers on Tuesday night agreed to end a 40-year-old ban on crude oil exports as a condition of the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending and taxation bill, paving the way—environmental organizations warn—for a dramatic increase in drilling, fracking, and carbon emissions.

The development comes just days after the COP21 climate talks in Paris, and according to green groups, threatens to undo the limited progress made at the United Nations-brokered negotiations.

"Lifting the ban on crude oil exports would undercut all the other progress our nation may make in fighting climate change," said Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute in a statement released Wednesday. "It would increase planet-warming pollution and deliver more fracking and dangerous drilling in America’s vulnerable communities and precious wildlife habitat."

The lifting of the export ban marks a key victory for Republicans, which they won in exchange for a separate agreement to renew a series of expired tax breaks for renewable energy. House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) "told fellow Republicans in a closed-door meeting Tuesday night" that the deal had been struck, Bloomberg reports.

Campaigners say the deal constitutes a gift to the very oil industry driving the climate crisis. In a study published in the journal Nature earlier this year, scientists concluded that, in order to stave off climate disaster, the vast majority of fossil fuel deposits around the world—including 92 percent of U.S. coal, all Arctic oil and gas, and a majority of Canadian tar sands—must stay "in the ground."

According to a study by the Center for American Progress published in August, removing the export ban could increase U.S. production of crude oil by "an average of 3.3 million barrels per day between 2015 and 2035." The study notes that is "the equivalent annual emissions of 108 million passenger cars of 135 coal-fired plants.

In a statement on Wednesday, Friends of the Earth warned that the omnibus bill also includes "numerous anti-environment policy riders," including provisions that would "block endangered species protections" and "limit restrictions on overseas coal financing."

"This proposal is toxic," said Lukas Ross, climate and energy campaigner for Friends of the Earth, in a statement released Wednesday. "Polluters and their champions in Congress are using the budget process to launch an assault on decades of bedrock environmental law. This is the wrong choice for clean air and a livable climate." 

"The budget process continues to be hostage to extraneous policy demands," Ross continued. "Funding basic government services shouldn’t involve bartering away basic environmental protections. Riders on everything from international coal finance to the crude oil export ban simply have no place in a spending bill."

"President Obama must veto this horrendous proposal or he’ll show the world that the commitments he just made in Paris are insincere," said Siegel. "The president is at real risk of losing any chance he has at a positive legacy on climate."

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